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Posts Tagged ‘Brittany’

What a remarkable thing serendipity is: a chance encounter, a crossing of Fate’s alignments, that puts a zing into life.

Geoff and I were heading home earlier this week from our lovely holiday in southern Brittany. We were feeling deeply imbued with Frenchness after being entrenched as natives for the duration of our stay.

We cranked up our language skills as the days went by so that we were able to have conversations with Monsieur, our landlord, and only lapse into Italian at every third word, as opposed to every second word, as it had been at the start.

The sound of our hands slapping our foreheads in frustration as the horrible realisation dawned of yet another faux pas became all-too familiar.

But we managed, and we made ourselves understood wherever we went – even to the French couple who stopped us on our first evening to ask where they could park their camper van. We gave them a Gallic shrug, a few variations on the useful word “Bouff”, and they soon got the message.

We also conducted exchanges with stall holders in the most fantastic food market, so big and so colourful that I’d like to have just stood and stared for hours. Instead, there were choices to be made and provisions to be bought before the best stalls sold out.

Later, I tortured the most heavenly ingredients into a meal in the one pan on the one hot plate in our kitchen. Haute cuisine it was not.

We felt, on the whole, that we had become as French as we could get without actually wearing a beret and a striped top. It was far too hot for dressing up.

Driving ferry-wards through northern France, we stopped for lunch in a small town we’d identified earlier on the map as being a must-see. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a mustn’t-eat, as one restaurant was full, another closed for the day and a third had gone out of business very recently.

We walked around and a local woman gave us a recommendation, naming a place up a hill in the next village. By the time we got back into the car we had, of course, forgotten her directions, so we just pootled along, not encountering a hill, until we came to a hamlet and saw a small hotel with people sitting outside under shade eating lunch.

This’ll do, we decided, even if it isn’t the one we were recommended. We enjoyed a tasty plât du jour, followed by coffee, at which point we fell into conversation with an English man at the next table. His inquiry if we were Brits did rather break our spell of being convincing natives, albeit natives with Italian accents.

Geoff and I were amazed to discover that this chap, resident in Normandy for the past 16 years (”and I still don’t speak a word of French” – shame on him) was the retired licensee of a pub that we knew well.

We knew many people in common, among them his former partner, and we learnt that he dreams of returning to live on the Jurassic coast.

Financial constraints are unlikely to allow this to happen, meaning he will probably see out his days in Normandy.

He didn’t seem too upset by this prospect, even if, by his own admission, he rarely has a clue of anything going on around him.

Whether or not that’s a good thing, I don’t know, but now I’m back home and the usual depressing news is coming from all angles, I can see it has its attractions.

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These words are being written in the sunny garden of an annexe to a large house in France where Geoff and I are staying for a week. Our quarters, and our area of garden, are private and perfect and our kind host has even given us permission to raid his vegetable garden and picture-book apple tree.

How are we getting on with our attempts to fit in and speak the language? In two words, pathetically badly. We gape like goldfish as we struggle for the right words to come out, but we are getting by with a confusing mix of of franglais spoken with Italian pronunciation. It’s certainly novel, and totally baffling for all, particularly us.

From my observations I note that to sound like one of the locals here in southern Brittany it would help if I spoke through a half-closed mouth. Mumbling is good. Looking like a dumbstruck goldfish is not. Also, I must learn to say ’Oui’ as though I’ve been punched in the stomach, so the word ends with a little expulsion of air. I like that so much I’ve been practising it.

On the subject of stomachs, mine has misbehaved abominably since the night before we were due to set off on hols, causing me hours of torment and lost sleep while I was violently sick. (Is there any other way to be sick, I wonder?)

Treat it mean, I decided, so 48 hours later I am still on nil by mouth and hoping that when tomorrow dawns it will find me eager for a restorative diet of good local food.

I do a terrific line in martyrdom, having been brought up not to make a fuss – even when, as a child, my horribly swollen tonsils just about blocked my throat and asphyxiated me, and I fell off horses so often that I was almost permanently nursing something wonky, bruised or broken, but definitely not feeling sorry for myself.

I have allowed a modicum of self-pity to surface when watching Geoff eat his lovely meals while I nurse a glass of water and a sad expression. I’ll get over this. I’ve decided on a galette for my first proper meal back in the world of normal. It’s a sort of buckwheat pancake and I think it will do me very nicely.

Even a bite of one now would be welcome, but I must wait. It doesn’t do to rush these things, and anyway, from other observations of the populace hereabouts, I note that, in spite of all the wonderful local produce available, eating probably doesn’t feature very high on the daily agenda. Everyone is so trim. So French. So stylish.

They are also, mercifully, not given to walking along with mobile phones welded to their hands. They look ahead, they talk with friends, they have expressions on their faces. This is all in total contrast with Italy and the Italians, for whom the mobile phone was invented.

There, you get barged off the pavement by phone-users, so you have to be constantly alert for what’s heading your way. Here, there is no such danger. The only pavement perils we’ve encountered are the countless mounds of dog poo.

So it’s heads up in Italy, heads down in Brittany. Otherwise, and the tummy gripes apart, of course, everything is just wonderful and nous sommes having un fab vacance in the soleil.

Having got such a good handle on the lingo, all we need now is the ability to speak it and not look like total fish out of water.

 

 

 

 

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Now that the temperature dial has reset itself to normal I am heading off to an altogether different climate.

At least I hope it will be different. Geoff assures me southern Brittany will be warm, quite possibly hot, so we’ll need to pack accordingly.

Never mind the packing: that’s always a last minute, panicky business. It’s being in France that’s obsessing me.

The pair of us have been on elastic between here and Italy for as long as I can remember. It fits us and we fit Italy. We’ve been to almost every region of the country, we speak the language, we love the food, we understand the way things work (or, too often, don’t work) and we love everything about being immersed in its infectiously lovable madness.

Now it’s time to break the habit. Geoff and I are digging deep into our memories to get the vestiges of our once passably good knowledge of the French language to bob up to the forefront of the heap in our brains marked ‘speaking foreign’ –  and we are going to bury our prejudices about French food.

The prejudices are based on a few unfortunate experiences when passing through France en route (just practising my French) to Italy. They’ve been hard to shake off, but we are ready and willing to give the food a jolly good chance to disprove our misgivings. Rich and creamy, drowned in sauces, loads of meat – all of that is anathema to Geoff and me, so we’ll be looking out for French food lite and I’m sure we’ll enjoy it.

Perhaps our main concern as we try and imagine ourselves in France is that, because it isn’t Italy, it’s out of our comfort zone. It’s different, it’s a challenge for us. It is therefore good for us. A sort of holiday with inbuilt effort.

We will be tested from the very start, as we’ll be staying in the annexe of a house whose owner warns us, in French, that his English is very poor.

I suspect that our conversation will initially be based around discussions about the pen of my aunt before we move seamlessly on to a brief discourse on the state of the Pont d’Avignon.

I might venture to impress him with my rendition of Frère Jacques and Geoff could break into Chansons d’Amour. I think Monsieur will be delighted by the entertainment.

If he even breathes the word Brexit I will fall into a dramatic faint. I cannot imagine the gloom that a discussion on that topic could cast over a holiday, so it won’t be tolerated. I must check before we get there how to say in French, “If you mention Brexit I’ll pass out. So don’t even think about it.”

I am also preparing a few choice words in my best franglais along the lines of “Je suis sorry but je have left mon beach body at home. In fact, je have jamais had one, being un petit peu sur le short side, but nous pouvons gloss over that.”

And then there’s the very important “Je suis hungry but if it’s tout de même with you I’ll pass on le horse meat and stick with une baguette, un kilo de fromage, et un unfeasible amount de vin.

“By the way, while je suis sur le sujet de food, je wouldn’t half mind un de votre best tartes au citron – et un grand one pour Monsieur Geoff. Merci beaucoup.”

I think we should get by with that. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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